Reportedly, Apple paid Irish band U2 $100M for the right to distribute Songs of Innocence,their latest album. Not leaving anything to chance, Apple took the next step last week and automatically added the album to nearly 500 million iPhone and iPad users in the world, depending on their settings, in nearly all cases without their permission. The reaction from users like TechCrunch’s Matt Burns (Apple Just Uploaded A U2 Album To Your iPhone and iPad — And WTF) was so strong that Apple quickly released information on how to get rid of the U2 album. This reaction from the public is no surprise, as Apple’s choice flies in the face of several trends that have become established in the consumer world.
Is This 1984?
First, Apple effectively reverted to a distribution model from years ago that enforces the “big band status quo” and drowns out the rest. They reestablished the role of the gatekeeper that has been slowly dying for over a decade.
Doug Evans puts it best in Apple, Get U2 Off My iPHone:
There are so many truly talented independent artists the world should hear – some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends. Many struggle to eke out a living, to raise a family, or even to keep a roof over their heads. The music industry is cluttered with such noise that these truly talented artists strain to be heard above the din of what a few power brokers choose for us.
Maybe U2 and Apple remember what that was like as an upstart band in Dublin, or a startup business in Los Altos?
The digital age gave us the ability to choose where we tune our ears and where we spend our dollars. I choose for mine go to artists and companies I most trust and admire.
Apple and U2 Make Foie Gras…And We’re The Ducks
Secondly, Apple showed disregard for music consumers’ expectation that they are in control of their own content. As Evans says, “…did it just get harder to vote with our wallets if a company can simply force a product on you?” The force feeding of a product on the consumers flies in the face of what Apple brought to the public with iTunes: we could suddenly buy music one song at a time, no longer forced to buy whole albums. We created playlists that allowed us to control our entertainment down to the song. It was revolutionary and Apple grew accordingly.
But what Apple created plus other technology changes (mobility, social, big data, analytics) mean that we’re in what many call The Age of the Customer. The Age of the Customer is all about customer experience and marketing through relevance to the consumer. What makes this age so different from the past is the consumer expectation that customer experience comes first, before the self-interest of the brand. Jeanne Roué-Taylor expresses this idea in her piece, The World Will Compete On Customer Experience:
Does the brand recognize me quickly and easily? Does the brand value me as a repeat customer in a way that matters to me? Can I maintain my expectations regardless of the time, place, and platform that I prefer in the moment? The answers to these questions will determine whether a brand is able to compete on customer experience.
By her definition, Apple and U2 didn’t put customer experience first in blasting out the album to any and all users, regardless of consumer interest. Instead, they made marketing assumptions that don’t hold up in a world of consumers getting used to having choice. That doesn’t mean they can’t regroup (and probably will) and find a way to reestablish what made both Apple and U2 great…products and music that people are willing to freely choose for themselves.